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First pitch has arrived for Statesboro, SEB, Portal

    Winter weather brought most of Bulloch County to a standstill last week.
    Luckily, baseball is here to usher in warmer weather.
    Bat is now officially meeting ball as Statesboro, Southeast Bulloch and Portal all throw their first pitches of the season this week.
    Statesboro was the first on the diamond, recording a 4-3 victory over Richmond Hill Monday night at Mill Creek Regional Park.
    The Blue Devils advanced to the second round of the state playoffs last season and return plenty for 2014.
    “It’s always good to have continuity,” SHS coach Jim Simmons said. “We have a great core of talent coming back. The key is to take what was good last year and build on it this season.”
    Statesboro returns seniors Jacob Schofill, Collin Chance, Blakely Brown and recent Mercer signee Jackson Ware.
    Jordan Finch returns for his junior season after putting up the pitching staff’s best stats last season.
    Chance and Brown will again pull double duty, filling out the heart of the batting order while also being called upon to pitch. Also fitting that description is sophomore Connor Akins, who had a breakout season as a freshman and looks to contribute even more this season.
    Statesboro plays its first road game of the season today as the Devils travel to Savannah to take on Calvary Day at Grayson Stadium.
    Southeast Bulloch is hoping for improvement after a solid 2013 campaign that ended with a trip to the state playoffs.
    As a fresh new face in Class AAA the Jackets are grouped in a region with perennial powers Appling County and Pierce County. Tattnall County and Islands also figure to have competitive squads.
    Six seniors are gone from last year’s SEB team, but six more Jackets rise up to take their place.
    Tyler Epps and Ryan Adams will both assume starting roles for a fourth consecutive season while Drew Rushing aims to repeat last year’s success on the mound. Keegan Carter provides more depth on the pitching staff while Jake Whitaker and Zach Hall help to make up a formidable batting order.
    “I wouldn’t say that we’re standing out in any one area,” SEB coach Brandon Peterson said. “But we also don’t feel like we have any glaring weaknesses. We have a good amount of experienced guys returning.”
    The Jackets begin their season Wednesday with a home date against Savannah Christian.
    The Portal Panthers can’t claim the postseason credentials of their fellow county schools, but have plenty to be excited about entering today’s season opener against Windsor Forest.
    Last season, an inexperienced – and very young – Portal squad dropped 10 of its first 11 games. Once the Panthers got their feet wet, their raw talent started to convert into wins and the second half of the season produced a much more respectable 8-7 mark.
    This time around, Portal will field eight returning starters and expect to start things off on the right foot.
    “We’re excited to get things going,” Portal coach Dennis Moore said. “I think we’ve got a good group of kids that has been working hard to build off of last year.”
    Health was a big factor a year ago as catcher Parker Parrish missed most of the season and Evan Street was unable to pitch aside from the first and last weeks of the season.
    Both are back at 100 percent and will form an imposing battery.
    Adding to the Panthers’ pitching is Brett Howell, who was thrown into the fire as a sophomore, only to transform into Portal’s most dependable arm.
    Looking at the offense, Christian McCranie and Brantley Spence are both entering their senior year and will be leaned on for their experience and past production.
    This season’s schedule offers few breathers as Portal shares its sub-region with perennial powers Savannah Christian and Calvary Day. Still, the Panthers know where they want to go and are looking forward to the challenge.
    “Our guys have been working hard in the offseason,” Moore said. “There are definitely some good teams that we’re grouped in with. We know the level that we need to be able to play at and that’s what we’re working towards.”

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.